Why is a Brit presenting Italian Eurovision?
And should it matter?
It’s been another harrowing week of news, with some stories hitting very close to home. More on that at a later date. But for now, I want to balance the serious news with something lighter for the weekend, and this is a very special weekend indeed: It’s the final of the Eurovision Song Contest.
For my non-European followers who may have blithely gone through life without basking in the glory of Eurovision, I’ll give you a few minutes to sample Finland’s winning entry from 2006 ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ as a taster. Just rejoin us when you’re ready. Be warned, it may be some time.
Because of a kick-a*s Italian winning entry last year by Måneskin, which got me excited about a Rock band for the first time in about a decade, the contest this year takes place in the Italian city of Turin.
The presenter line-up is impressive. Its undisputed star is the singer Laura Pausini, and if you don’t know who she is, look her up. She’s won a Grammy and a Golden Globe and was recently nominated for an Oscar. She’s both a national treasure and a global star. Basically, the best Eurovision presenter you could hope for.
Joining her on stage is Alessandro Cattelan. He’s one of Italy’s most popular entertainment TV presenters, who crucially speaks English well enough to broadcast live (not a given among Italian TV personalities).
And then there’s….Mika. Yes, that Mika. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved Mika since ‘Grace Kelly’ came out back in 2007, in my pre-motherhood days when I still enjoyed the semblance of a night life. He’s obviously a great person as well as a hugely talented artist. Among his many projects, he’s been working in Italy in recent years as a judge on the Italian version of ‘X-Factor’. In that time he has won the hearts of Italians as a TV presenter as well as an artist.
So far, so great. So what’s my problem?
Well, to put it bluntly, Mika’s not Italian.
I feel bad just writing that. Heck, I’ve called this very newsletter ‘News with a Foreign Accent’! I’m all about us third-culture kids thriving on our differences and overcoming rigid interpretations of nationality. And Mika is definitely one of us - born in Lebanon, raised in the UK from the age of 9 via Paris, a dual UK/US national and an appeal that is truly international. But having a multi-national background doesn’t mean I believe that a distinct national identity doesn’t matter, especially in the context of something like Eurovision.
When my British friends will ask me tonight why a Brit is presenting Italian Eurovision, what should I say?
The Eurovision Song Contest is all about countries showcasing themselves, their musical talents and their culture. Some of it to hilarious effect.
And if Eurovision is all about promoting each country’s national identity, some countries have it easier than others. Language plays a part. Several countries will sing in English to have broader appeal, even when it’s not their official language.
I’ll be forever proud that Maneskin’s winning entry last year, Zitti e Buoni, was in Italian, as was Mahmood’s ‘Soldi’ , which came second in 2019. (And both songs mention their ‘mamma’. Yup. It’s true.)
Not performing in English is a disadvantage.
Of course that applies for presenters too. I know from experience that presenting live in your second language isn’t easy.
Talking to the One Show (as reported by the iNewspaper), Mika himself said:
“I learnt (Italian) in a couple of months. Luckily, my Italian is better now. The ironic thing about this whole thing is that I’m gonna do Eurovision, the biggest TV show Italy has ever had to put on, and the whole thing is in English.”
It is so much easier to gain visibility, in whatever field, if your work is in English. Having Mika in the line up almost gives the impression that the Italian TV bosses couldn’t find a third Italian presenter who was up to the task and so they had to get a foreigner. And I feel that’s more of a reflection of their narrow thinking than of the vibrant young Italian talent that is actually out there.
Then there’s the thorny issue of meritocracy in Italy and the discrimination which is very much alive in the country.
Mika identifies as a gay man, and I remember the relentless questioning he faced in the UK about his sexuality when he first became famous.
There is more discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community in Italy than then UK, and the difference would have been even worse when Mika achieved success 15 years ago. The question I ask myself is whether he would have made it if he’d been working within in Italy as an Italian from the beginning of his career. I suspect the answer is no.
So, laudable though it is to have Mika inject more inclusion and diversity within the presenter line-up, he is NOT a product of the Italian system. He started working in Italy once he was already an established artist.
Using him as a ‘face’ of modern Italy feels like nothing more than a smokescreen. Diversity is becoming more visible among young Italian artists, but it is still rare among the presenters afforded leading roles on mainstream Italian TV.
Having said all this, I really hope (and have no doubt) that the Eurovision Final will be a great show. I’m still quite torn about the Mika issue, so let me know what you think in the comments below. (Die-hard Mika fans, please be kind.)
And let me put this to you again: When my British friends will ask me tonight why a Brit is presenting Italian Eurovision, what should I say?
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Have a great weekend everyone and Happy Eurovision!
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All the best, until next time. x